by ALEXANDRA RETTER
A young man in his early 20s came to barber Gill Jordan because his hair was not quite growing in as he would like after brain surgery. Jordan found a cut that he thought would work perfectly for the young man. The barber kept him facing away from the mirror while completing the style. “And when I turned him around, he looked at his head and just broke down crying … And I’m like, ‘What’s going on?’” Jordan said. “And he said, ‘You did it. You did it.’” Jordan had tears in his eyes at that moment, too. Now, the young man waves at Jordan whenever they see each other out and about in town. “It seems like it boosted his spirits,” Jordan said. “That moment just stuck with me.”
Though Jordan has been a barber for about 30 years, that memorable scene happened here in Winona, where recently he opened a new barbershop downtown. He named his shop “Uncle Gill’s Cutz” in honor of the regular customers he sees mature from childhood to adults. They become like family members to him, and he becomes like their uncle as they tell him their stories over the years of frequenting his barbershop.. “That’s what a barbershop is for,” Jordan said. “It’s more of a community thing.” People relate to one another as they spend time together at a barbershop, he continued. Barbers’ work goes beyond cutting hair, as well, he said. They listen when people talk about the positive and difficult parts of their lives.
Winona State University (WSU) Associate Vice President of the Office of Equity and Inclusive Excellence Jonathan Locust, who collaborated with Jordan on a barbershop program at WSU last year that brought Black barbers to campus for university community members, said Black barbershops are a staple in the Black community. Barbers serve as mentors and coaches. During the war on drugs, “It was the Black barbershops that became a place for solace for a lot of Black men,” he said.
WSU began its program so students would not have to drive to Rochester, Minn. the Twin Cities or Milwaukee, Wis., for barbers familiar with cutting natural Black hair.
It is phenomenal to see a new business in Winona, especially in the middle of the pandemic, Locust said, as it illustrates economic development. “Inclusion can bring upon economic impact,” he said. Jordan’s barbershop will provide an opportunity for people from different backgrounds to engage with one another, too. “And obviously, white people can go to Black barbers,” Locust said. “So it’s going to be an opportunity to share cultures.” White people could go to the barbershop and understand why there is a movie franchise and show about barbershops, for instance, he said.
Community member Kari Marie has appreciated the atmosphere at Jordan’s barbershop. She said in a message that he interacted with her children in a great way, and they loved their haircuts. “Gill took time to have meaningful conversations with them,” she said. “His interest in our community and how he could help was a breath of fresh air.”
Jordan decided to open his shop in Winona after coming to WSU from Rochester to cut students’ hair in the locker room last year as part of the university’s barbershop program. He then happened to see online that a perfect space for his barbershop was available. He noticed that an adjacent space, which he is currently working to transform into a restaurant, was also free. He decided it would be a good idea to pursue owning both spaces.
Jordan’s journey as a barber began even before his work in Winona. When Jordan was a child, one of his brothers cut the hair of everyone in their Chicago neighborhood.
Jordan would have to wait for his brother to cut his hair. One day, he used his brother’s clippers to give himself a new cut. It turned out well, so he kept cutting his own hair. His mom then had him cut his younger brother’s hair. His younger brother’s friends liked the style, and they wanted him to cut their hair, too. “And then I became a neighborhood barber,” Jordan said.
Next, he attended a barber school in Chicago at the age of 16. He received his barber’s license. That opened the door for him to work at barbershops throughout Chicago. Jordan then came to Rochester to play professional basketball. He returned to working as a barber after his basketball career came to a close.
Jordan’s passion for being a barber has extended to other members of his family. His son now cuts hair for members of the Timberwolves and Vikings.
With Jordan’s barbershop open, he is working to connect with others in Winona. “I just want to be a big part of the community,” Jordan said “I think that’s so important.”
Jordan would like to use his spaces to provide a supportive place for people to hear from those who have gone through challenges and to hold meetings. He would also like to offer the spaces as a place for children to complete homework and study. “They can sit out there and enjoy each other,” Jordan said. “That’s why I say I want to … hold people together. Because that’s what’s missing in the world.”
Uncle Gill’s Cutz is open Tuesday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Appointments may be scheduled by calling 507-271-9259. The shop is located at 157 West Third Street in Suite C of the Kensington.